Friday, May 21, 2010

Dancing for my dad

I read a great post by little boxes which prompted this. I will continue to call her Rhea till there's reason not to. Reading it made me think of my daughter, who is studying Bharatanatyam.

I say studying but perhaps I should say my daughter is being made to study Bharatanatyam. She is seven years old. It is the parents dilemma between listening to what the child says about what her interests are and deciding for her that it is important for her to have a skill or discipline. This of course is summarily complicated by the fact that she is an only child, which leaves more time than is healthy more likely for ruminations by said parents on this topic.

My father started me on percussion lessons when I was five years old. I loved drums from much younger than that, so it was a welcome addition to my life. I took mridangam lessons for three and a half years. At the tender age of nine, I decided I did not want to take classes with my teacher anymore. I still remember that on the day I decided I wanted to stop classes, it was because my mridangam class coincided with a movie my family was going to see. In order to go see the movie, I told my father I wanted to stop lessons.

In hindsight, it was a loss. Not the teacher; he was very loseable. I mean the opportunity to have classical training and to advance my skills. My father didn't question my decision. In fact he gave me the money for the lessons already taken and let me tell my teacher that lessons were over. I remember that to this day. On the one hand my father was giving me autonomy. On the other, perhaps I was allowed to make this decision earlier than I was able to.

So now when my daughter tells me she doesn't want to go to class, I bribe her. I figure my job is to get her to class; it is the responsibility of her teacher (who is wonderful) to draw her into the magical world of dance. Almost always this is the case. She is smiling when she comes out, sometimes skipping rhythms as she trots to the car. The enthusiasm wanes mid week and the cycle continues.

Our thought was that by learning Bharatanatyam she would have access to multiple things; Hinduism, mythology, music, movement, expression, and grace. By doing it in class, hopefully she would make some friends and gain the discipline that comes with the development of an art form.

The one thing she definitely likes to do is dress up. She loves the two hour process of makeup, costume and jewellery. For now, that is enough to make her go to class.

As she grows older, I see glimpses of it in her everyday life. A hasta while she brushes her teeth. Footwork while she walks down the hallway, done surreptitiously so as not to give parents any evidence that she might have absorbed anything from class.

Does she have to dance all her life? No. Percussion and drumming have stayed with me all my life.

If she gets discipline and a roadway into the vast mysteries of South Asian culture, I will consider it mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just say no

I went to buy dog food for our JackChi yesterday. Her name is Sparkle, we've had her for three months and she's an amazing rescue dog. But this post is not about her. I bought her some Solid Gold Just a Wee Bit adult dog food. The one guy at the PetCo that seemed to know stuff about the products recommended it to me. It was also ok'd by our Vet neighbour Susie. You probably know him. He's the one that all the other employees call over when you ask them a question. But then again, I'm not writing about dogfood. Not today anyway.

I bought the big case and ambled to the counter. It was my luck that the manager was at the checkout counter. I think it was AP exam week and all his highschool worker bees must have taken the day off. I stood in line and watched as he did three cross sells and then closed by finally asking the lady in front of me if she wanted to donate $5 today to the dog cancer society.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am very much in favor of science and research. I also like to help people and do what I can for the environment. I just do not like being pressed into it.

It gave me great pleasure therefore to stand there and say a curt 'No' or 'No thanks not today' for each cross sell and the $5 donation.

As I walked out, I felt a calmness and contentment. It was a comfort in the belated realization that when I said worked extra hard to please people I didn't know, the end result was that I would walk away feeling slightly cheapened or deeply irritated. Being a consensus builder and agreeable are great traits; I value them both. I also know now that I don't need to exercise them all the time.

There was this guy Bob. A balding African American man that showed up at the game room at Haverford College to play ping pong. I always beat him, altho he played well. I would subsequently spend 30 - 45 minutes listening to him talk. About any topic of his choice. I just did not know how to say 'sorry Bob, have to go' and walk away'.

I went into a RadioShack when I was 14, to look at radios. We looked at a model and the salesman sold himself to me. I didn't realize this till later. While it was more expensive than I would have liked and not what I wanted, I fought with my father about it because I didn't want to let the salesman down.

The problem was that this was the result of perfectly good middle class values and a community upbringing. When you are taught every day to think about other people and do more for others, it is then a confusing thing (at least for me) to throw those ingrained values out the door the moment you were talking to a stranger or a vendor. I think part of this is that I did not develop a strong notion of an inner, middle and outer circle of loyalty.

So how did I learn to start saying no? The good news is that after life pounds the decency out of you and beats you down to a pulp, you start to realize the need for self protection. The awareness comes slowly and you hold it close to your heart and look around surreptitiously, checking to see who else saw it delivered. There's this guilt you have to overcome about abandoning childhood values. You can circumvent this by saying that this is a more sophisticated treatment of those same values.

The conversion comes the very first time you use it. You say it.
It's foreign. Scary even.
What's even more frightening is the feeling afterwards. The relief, the load off your shoulders. The unwanted responsibility now turned into a polite, yet diffident negation.

Why in the world did I not do this before?

That was my general refrain once I started swinging the No hammer.


Damn, does it feel good.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bali travels - Child labor on Amed beach

Her name is Wayan. I met her wandering the beaches in Amed, the Northern part of Bali famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling. If you've visited Bali you know the name is common, given there are only four first names in all of Bali.

She was the oldest (hence Wayan). She spoke good English. She was smart; shrewd even. Her story was good, and she was focused on selling her little boxes of salt. The hapless Australian pair who were sunbathing at the Cafe where we were, paid 50,000 Rupiah for a small wicker box of salt. She offered it to me for 10,000. Perhaps a good neighbour discount?

The conversation went something like this.
Me: How much did they pay for it?
Wayan: 50,000 Rupiah
Me: (with a smile) really?
Wayan: (with a catious smile) yes
Me:Who makes this?
Wayan: My mother makes the boxes. I did the shell design on the top. I collect the salt
Me: Do you go to school?
Wayan: Yes.
Me: Good
Wayan: I will give this to you for 10,000. Do you want to buy?

It made me smile. It was decent US rates. Roughly $1 for a wicker basket with sea salt in it. The Balinese price would be closer to $1000 rupiah. I didn't buy from her. After eating a sumptuous seafood meal at the Amed Restaurant, I saw a sign in broken English that was clearly for the benefit of the tourists.

It didn't shock me as such. After all, it is the same sentiment in India. We all feel very strongly that child labor should be abolished. Yet in different ways we have all made use of it, perhaps guiltily, because it suited us and improved our quality of life. From the perspective of those below the poverty line, living from hand to mouth, it was a matter of survival not morals or ethics. The notion of a child's quality of life was an unreachable sentiment to those parents.

I felt the familiar pangs of guilt as I walked the 600 yards back to the luxurious Kembali Beach Bungalow, a small resort run by a Dutch immigrant who now called Bali his home. I want to help, but I know that there is likely some 'bossman' who is collecting most of the profit the kids make. It's the same rackets as the streets of Mumbai.

I spoke to one of the workers there a little later. Ketut, who was a local, was starting to speak to me a little more. Now that we had been there for two days, I asked him questions about Amed and Bali in general, and about his life in particular. This topic was clearly close to his heart as he was quick to respond.

The signs he told me, were put up by the people that started the scuba diving shops on Amed beach. They were not local. They were Javanese, but not from Bali, and definitely not from Amed. Because of weather conditions, the sea faring folk could not make salt and sell it in quantity. So on a given day, if they do not catch any fish, they go hungry.

'How can they judge?' He asked me somewhat angrily. 'They don't provide employment for the adults. They underpay and take advantage. Then they put up signs that we should not buy from the children.'

I did not have an answer. Standing there in that picture perfect part of the world, I felt his sadness and helplessness.

I went home that day and hugged my little girl. It alleviated the heaviness in my heart about Wayan's prospects for the future.

The next day, we bought some beads from Wayan.